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FOOD STUDIES

that food studies can also include applied disciplines that deal with the fundamental properties of food—culinary arts, food science, and nutrition, for example—as well as food history and culinary history, agriculture and food production, and descriptive and economic analyses of food systems and the food industry.

By its very nature, food studies is interdisciplinary and must rely on methods, approaches, and themes de- rived from other disciplines. In this sense it is develop- ing in much the same manner as other interdisciplinary fields, such as American studies, women’s studies, and performance studies, that emerged a generation ago. Food studies may be unusual, however, in the breadth of the disciplines on which it draws. Economists, historians, psychologists, nutritionists, agronomists, geologists, ge- ographers, archaeologists, environmental scientists, legal scholars, political scientists, and historians—culinary and otherwise—all bring distinct methods of research and analysis to bear on food themes.

Multiple Methods and Approaches

Traditional academic disciplines are often defined by the distinct methods used by scholars in conducting research. Certain areas of inquiry, for example, use surveys, par- ticipant observations, or analyses of texts, historical doc- uments, social interactions, and self-reports. Because food studies emerged from the humanities and social sci- ences, researchers typically rely on ethnography, case studies, and historical investigations. Throughout the twentieth century, for example, anthropologists debated whether culture is rooted in tangible and concrete arti- facts—the implements and debris of hunting, gathering, and cooking—or in ideas and belief systems. They asked why people chose certain foods and used them in certain ways. They examined how religious beliefs, practices, and rituals influenced dietary practices, and they compared those influences to the effects of the environment or evo- lutionary biology. Claude Lévi-Strauss, for example, used a classic anthropological approach in his study of the sym- bolic use of food in culture, The Raw and the Cooked (1979). In contrast, the anthropologist Sidney Mintz pro- duced a quintessential example of food studies research in his book Sweetness and Power (1985), in which he traced the ways a single food substance, in this case sugar, trans- formed modern history and culture. Anthropologists have further expanded the scope of their investigations to in- clude the nutritional implications of dietary practices.

Scholars in other fields also examine food themes from the perspectives of their traditional disciplines. Food historians investigate the ways in which foods have influenced world events in the past and present. Culinary historians focus on recipes and cooking techniques, ex- ploring when, where, and how specific foods or ingredi- ents might have been grown, produced, prepared, and consumed in different periods. Food sociologists focus on issues of hunger, malnutrition, and inequities of the global food supply as well as on societal determinants of

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FOOD AND CULTURE

diet-related conditions, such as obesity or heart disease. Psychologists often investigate how and why people make food choices or such matters as eating disorders, food phobias, and the psychological connections between eat- ing and taste, pleasure, and disgust. Scholars trained in literature or languages examine how novels, poems, and essays are enriched with food imagery or the ways in which travel writing and memoirs use food themes to ex- press ideas or points of view. Because food studies draws on many such disciplines, encyclopedias of food history or culture necessarily include examples of many different scholarly approaches to the study of food.

The Food Studies “Movement”

As participants in an emerging field, food studies re- searchers are not constrained by the methods and ap- proaches of any one discipline, and they enjoy the freedom to study what they like in whatever way seems most ap- propriate. Because food studies is inherently interdisci- plinary, its scholars must define their own research agendas based on elements incorporated from traditional disciplines. Because this flexibility may be perceived as unfamiliar or lacking in rigor no matter how excellent the quality of the work, the academic study of food itself, as opposed to studying food within a traditional discipline, is established in only a few universities. The field appears to be expanding, however. In the United States, culinary schools are broadening their offerings to include courses in food history and culture, and universities in France, Mexico, and Australia have established degree programs that emphasize food. To scholars writing about food, such developments constitute the food studies “movement.” As further evidence for this movement, they cite the series of books on food and culture established by university presses, such as those of Columbia University, North- western University, and the University of California; the breadth and depth of the culinary history and food stud- ies collections of the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe Col- lege and the Fales Library at NYU; and the proliferation of encyclopedias on food history and culture, such as those cited in the bibliography.

In part, the growing acceptance and legitimacy of food studies as a discrete field reflects increasing recog- nition that innovative scholarship often crosses discipli- nary boundaries. In the academic environment, the identification of food studies as a separate field may not matter much. The very existence of the food studies movement encourages students and faculty in traditional academic disciplines to conduct research on food themes and facilitates the publication of scholarly work related to the role of food in society, culture, and commerce.

See also Anthropology and Food; Chef, The; Cuisine, Evolu- tion of; Education about Food; Foodways; Gastronomy.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford

University Press, 1999.

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